By Jill Penley

Statistics don’t lie.
One of the safest choices drivers and passengers can make is buckle up.
Since state troopers are now asked to prioritize aggressive seatbelt enforcement, the admonition is a top priority now more than ever.
“In 2017, Tennessee’s average seatbelt usage rate was 88.51 percent,” said Tennessee Highway Safety Office Director Vic Donoho. “Last year, the usage rate was 88.77 percent. Through increased education, enforcement, and community involvement, we’re striving to achieve 100 percent.”
The Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) has received $100,000 in federal traffic safety grants “to provide increased enforcement, public awareness campaigns and assistance to help reduce serious injury and fatal crashes on state roadways in 2019. Historically, approximately 50 percent of Tennessee’s traffic fatalities involve unbelted individuals.
The grants received recently from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and distributed through the Tennessee Highway Safety Office (THSO), is to be used to increase seat belt usage statewide by implementing a new campaign “Belts Eliminate Loss Tragedy and Suffering,” or BELTS.
According to officials, the goal of the program is to increase the current seat belt usage rate of 88.51 percent by conducting Safetybelt School Zone Enforcement blitz in each of the eight THP Districts each month. THP will also conduct nighttime safety belt saturations.
The ultimate hope is to see a reduction in the number of fatal and injury crashes with unrestrained drivers by increasing the number of motorists wearing seat belts.
The last time Tennessee increased the seat belt fine was in 2016. Fines for not wearing a seat belt increased to $25 for a first-offense violation and $50 for second and subsequent offenses.
According to the clerk’s office, with court’s costs included, a seat belt citation in Johnson County now is $30 for the first violation and $55 for each after that.
Notwithstanding the court’s costs, the same state law specifies where the fine money goes. The law states, “the revenue generated by $15 of the $25 fine for a person’s first conviction shall be deposited in the state general fund without being designated for any specific purpose,” with the remaining $10 being “deposited in the state general fund and designated for the exclusive use of the
division of vocational rehabilitation to assist eligible individuals with disabilities,
as defined in § 49-11-602, who have been severely injured in motor vehicle accidents.”
The same formula applies for the second or subsequent conviction with the first $30 deposited into the state’s general fund and the remaining $20 deposited in the state general fund and designated for the exclusive use of the division of vocational rehabilitation to assist eligible individuals with disabilities who have been severely injured in motor vehicle accidents.
In neighboring North Carolina the penalty for a front-seat occupant’s failure to wear a seat belt is $25.50
plus $153.50 in district court costs.
Tennessee’s seat belt law is “primary enforcement,” meaning an officer can pull you over and ticket you solely for not wearing a seat belt. Drivers can also be fined for their own seat belt violation as well as the seat belt violation of passengers under 18 years old. Any passengers 16 or older who have a driver’s license will be ticketed for their own seat belt violations, though.
Another misconception is the utilization of the shoulder belt. Whatever seat belt is available must be used to its full capacity.
Both the shoulder belt and lap belt should be used when both are available.
State law mandates that your child should sit in the rear seat (when available) until they turn nine years old. However, children age 12 and under should ride in the back seat of the vehicle whenever possible as the back seat is the safest position for children.
With younger children, car seat and booster seat laws must be obeyed.
“Every year, traffic safety advocates, non-profit organizations, emergency response personnel, law enforcement, District Attorneys’ offices, and other state agencies across Tennessee seek funding through grant applications offered by the THSO,” said THSO Director Vic Donoho. “Applicants who meet the required data-driven criteria and highway safety standards are awarded grant funds to support the THSO’s mission to reduce traffic crashes, injuries, and fatalities.”
Car seat and booster seat requirements can be found at www.tn.gov/safety/publicsafety/newcrd.html.